Rex Zero and the End of the World
By Tim Wynne-Jones
Melanie Kroupa Books, 2007
Rex Zero and the End of the World is a children's/young adult novel that is perhaps best described as an odd cross between historical fiction and mystery... and stuff.
It is 1962, and Rex Norton-Norton (Norton - Norton = Zero) is having a lazy summer in a new town. He and his large family have only just arrived in Ottawa, the last (for now) in a long series of moves. Rex is a fairly happy-go-lucky kid, and he's excited to live in a big house where he has his own room in the attic. But things are... different here. There are almost no kids in the neighborhood. The kids he does see all seem to be running from something. There are a surprising number of Commie spies roaming the streets (in cunning disguises, of course). Their new dog eats furniture. There's a monster living in the park. It's a crazy place.
Because this book gets a lot of mileage out of being unpredictable and keeping the reader guessing, it's a bit hard to review it properly without spoilers. The most relevant fact, however, is that this is a work of 'enhanced autobiography'. Tim Wynne-Jones also traveled a lot growing up, also lived in Ottawa when has twelvish, lived in the same house, had the same bike... He may not actually have found a monster in the park, but there's nothing wrong with adding bit of artistic flare to an otherwise bald narrative. This explains quite a bit about the story -- Rex is very much a slightly self-deprecating view of a child from an adult's perspective, which is a bit disconcerting in a children's book. On the other hand, he writes very convincingly about how it felt to be a child in '62, with the threat of the Cold War becoming oppressive.
I expect that this book will generally be enjoyed by children and teens who are interested in what life was like for their parents and grandparents, and are able to appreciate an odd story as a puzzle instead of a joke. I think Rex may be easier to identify with as a memory of having been a child than as an actual child, which may make it hard for younger readers to get into the book. The narrative is somewhat slow and chaotic, especially in the beginning, and the archaic setting and high vocabulary level may be off-putting. I would recommend it for strong, thoughtful readers of 10-14, and for older kids who don't mind reading what is frankly a tween novel.
The sequel to Rex Zero and the End of the World is Rex Zero, King of Nothing; there is also a third book, Rex Zero, The Great Pretender.
ISBN- 10: 0-374-33467-6
AR level 4.1